For this week's Villa in Four, I'm taking a look exclusively at Villa's pace in my own little way. We can all do that simple math and figure out that the Villans are on pace for 48 points, sure, but that doesn't say anything about the difficulty of fixtures and when they could get where.
So, for simplicity's sake, I'm going to split the teams into three groups — the "Big Seven," the High Flyers, and the Bottom Eight — as follows...
|Clubs||Villa's Record to Date|
|The Big Seven||Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur||1-0-5 (3 pts)|
|The High Flyers||Newcastle, Southampton, Swansea City, West Ham United||0-3-0 (3 pts)|
|The Bottom Eight||Burnley, Crystal Palace, Hull City, Leicester City, Queens Park Rangers, Stoke City, Sunderland, West Bromwich Albion||4-1-1 (13 pts)|
So, as should be evidenced, I've broken teams into groups based on a combination of net spend (the "Big Seven") and success for the clubs that don't spend as much (the High Flyers and the Bottom Eight). Which are Villa? I'm not sure Villa are really either — we'll see how the year progresses but if it stays the same...
If pace holds, Villa's point total on 10 January. The level to which this would be fantastic can not be understated enough. Being on 29 points pending a visit from Liverpool the following weekend would put Villa in a great spot — one where they could push on late in the year without much worry and coast to a mid-table finish.
Fixtures in this run include WBA, United, Swansea, Sunderland, Palace, and Leicester. 10 points — 3 wins and a draw — would probably stack up to expectations this run.
It would also allow the opportunity to get more young guys like Callum Robinson, Jack Grealish, and Gary Gardner some playing time.
I mean, think about it this way — if Villa hold pace through mid-January, they'd only need 11 points in their last 17 to "survive," and that's assuming 40 points is necessary. Most likely though? It won't be. A good run here against favourable fixtures here in the next month would virtually put Villa safe with four months left in the season. That would be fun.
Villa's pace if they fail to record any points the rest of the way against teams outside of the bottom eight. This is... kind of an astounding statistic but actually true. Villa have 13 points through six matches against teams in the bottom eight so far; a definite recipe for success.
If Villa hold that pace through their final 10 matches against teams currently in the bottom eight, they'd rack up another 22 points along the way. Add that to Villa's point total now — which is 19 — and you'd have a scenario where Villa would reach "survival" without a single point against a team currently above them in the table.
It's a sign that Villa are starting to consistently win those most vital of games again; the ones against the teams at the bottom of the table. If that current pace holds, Villa would amass 35 points throughout the year out of a possible 48 against teams towards the bottom of the table; not bad, right?
Why are Southampton in the European conversation? They've only dropped four points against clubs that aren't part of the "Big Seven." It's also a big part of why they finished so high up the table last year — they were poor against the big clubs (as everyone from outside of them typically is) but they took care of business against the poorer sides in the league.
Granted, it's very unlikely that they keep up this trend — Lambert's sides at Villa have gone through stretches where they've had this sort of success but never a full season of it.
Then again? Villa didn't lose to a bottom-half side from February 2013 through early December of that year. There's been a prolonged stretch of it, just never a full season. Perhaps this is the year they put it all together and push on early?
Number of Villa's six games against teams in the bottom eight that have been at home. Also: Number of Villa's home games against the bottom eight that they have won. I think it's extremely important to note how Villa have gotten their points so far this year — and how they've put in a pair of really solid performances at home against bad teams.
Of Villa's 13 points against the bottom eight, six of those have come at home, against Hull and Leicester. In both matches, Villa had a half that they absolutely dominated and used to get the win, despite the opposing goalkeeper coming up strong. And that is, realistically, what you should do at home against bad sides.
The away points? Six of them have probably come from the two toughest trips in the bottom eight, visits to Selhurst Park and the Brittania Stadium. And while most will criticize Lambert for his tactics in these matches, they worked pretty well for his side against a pair of teams that struggle to break opponents down.
Villa are developing a knack for smartly grabbing points against the bad sides. If that means taking the game to them? Villa can do it. If that means letting their opponent bang their head against a wall and then get hit on the break? Villa can do that too.
Number of different, new scorers of Villa's four goals in the last three matches. Alright, this is off-track from everything else but I felt worth mentioning.
Before the trip to Burnley, Villa had scored six goals in 12 matches with only two players — Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann — having found the back of the net.
Since? Joe Cole, Christian Benteke, Ciaran Clark, and Alan Hutton have found the back of the net. It's a great sign that in and of itself shows that Villa are playing better than they were before.
Percent chance that Villa actually hold these paces and make things easy in the last four months of the season. Come on now, this is Aston Villa. We know things can't work out nice and peacefully. Before we know it, they'll beat United (actually, no they won't) and then follow it up with losses to Swansea, Sunderland, Palace, and Leicester because this is Villa.
Nothing can go according to plan. But hey, isn't it nice to hope that it will?